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Tuesday April 16, 2024

To march or not

By Editorial Board
June 02, 2022

Politics of confusion continues to rule the country. Imran Khan has been talking about another ‘long march’ to Islamabad – but hasn’t given a date yet. The PTI has said it will wait for the Supreme Court to decide on the protocol for the march, and has filed a petition in the apex court seeking permission for a second long march to Islamabad. While such faith in the country’s apex court is commendable, we have seen SC orders on this matter ignored by both sides during the May 25 long march. There is obvious confusion within the PTI on what to do next. The government too has decided to not let this moment go without threatening the PTI against the announcement of another long march. Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah has dared the PTI to ‘cross the barriers this time’. Needless to say, such threats and tone hardly bode well for the already soaring political temperatures. Already, the PTI has asked the UN to investigate what it says were state excesses during the party’s march.

It is important to not lose sight of constitutional rights – no matter the political situation. In that, a peaceful protest in any form is a democratic right accorded to all citizens of the country. Article 16 states that every citizen shall have the right to assemble peacefully and without arms, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of public order. So, if the PTI were to remain within set parameters, there is really no justification for the government to try and stop any party from protesting – peacefully. This has also been elaborated in the Faizabad dharna judgment. The last crackdown against PTI was condemned across the board, as it should have been. However, there is the question of PTI workers who set fire to trees, attacked media organisation offices and also harassed and attacked media professionals who were only doing their job. Thus, the Supreme Court’s judgment yesterday on a plea filed by the Islamabad High Court Bar Association (IHCBA) against the government’s decision to block roads to stop the PTI’s long march raises some questions, including those raised by Justice Yahya Afridi in his dissenting note.

The Supreme Court has said that, while the PTI workers/supporters/sympathizers may have dishonoured the assurances given to the court by PTI leadership, there is no evidence that the reckless acts of mob anger can be blamed on the senior leadership of the PTI. In his dissenting note, though, Justice Yahya Afridi has said that there is sufficient evidence ‘to proceed against Mr Imran Khan for the alleged disobeyance of the court order’.

Some analysts are of the view that dharnas should be banned and political parties and people should only be allowed to protest for a day. This is a problematic view on many levels. Protest in its essence is a subversive act – and there is a constitutional provision that allows for peaceful acts of protest. Banning protests or even sit-ins – as long as they don’t infringe on others rights – also takes away political agency from marginalized groups that have had to resort to sit-ins in the face of an apathetic state. The PTI is most obviously at a loss with doubts over whether to protest or go back into the National Assembly. There are also rumblings of Imran Khan not listening to counsel and choosing his own path of action. The inflation bomb continues to rock the country and could possibly be the deciding factor when the time actually comes to put ballot papers into boxes.